PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Rickie Fowler was feeling pretty good after walking off the Champion course Friday, knowing he was safely inside the cut line.
Chomping down a peanut butter and banana sandwich on wheat, Fowler was given the opportunity to finish his post-round meal before talking to the media.
“I’m good, this isn’t going to be that long,” he said before leaning into a microphone and taking a chunk out of the sandwich with a great big smile. Neither the mic nor the camera was rolling.
Fowler, the Jupiter, Florida, resident, remains one of the more gracious and popular players on Tour, whether ranked No. 9 in the world, as he was two years ago entering the Honda Classic, or 81st, his current ranking. After taking questions about his round and his struggles Friday, Fowler gladly agreed to shoot a video for the wife of a PGA Tour member who was celebrating a birthday Friday. This came a day after Fowler agreed to a switch of standard bearers, so local teen Anthony Trudel could follow his idol for the day.
Rickie Fowler has not changed. He’s living a wildly successful life on and off the golf course — he dropped $14 million five years ago for his waterfront mansion — and nobody should fault or criticize him for that, especially not some Hall of Famer-turned-talking-head who sounded envious of Fowler’s popularity before offering a lame excuse as an apology.
Fowler’s 2-under 68 Friday is just his second sub-70 round in his last 14. He shot an even-par opening round and enters the weekend 2 under for the tournament after missing the cut three times in his last five starts. His world ranking is his lowest in 11 years.
All low-hanging fruit for some, including CBS golf analyst Nick Faldo.
Good news is if he misses the Masters he can shoot another six commercials that week! 😳 https://t.co/kgGcmaZUJO
— Sir Nick Faldo (@NickFaldo006) March 2, 2021
Fowler, 32, is in danger of having a streak of 41 consecutive appearances at majors snapped. He will not qualify for the Masters if he does not win this weekend or in two weeks at the Texas Open. Rickie has five PGA Tour titles, none of those a major, although he has three seconds and a third. But Faldo certainly knew that considering about 90 minutes after the first dig, Sir Nick doubled down:
“Ok sports fans out of my own curiosity what would you rather have, a boatload of cash or your name in three green books?” in reference to his three Masters titles.
Feeling the heat, Faldo later released a video trying to convince everyone his purpose was to “motivate” Fowler.
Fowler was by far the bigger man.
“I know where Nick was trying to come from on that, and it’s like competitor to competitor, you’re trying to needle each other and get each other going type of thing,” Fowler said Friday. “I am fortunate to have some great partners and make some great commercials, and it’s been fun to be able to do that.”
Faldo is not the only one who has taken shots at a player respected by his peers and adored universally by his fans. Wonder how many times kids have attempted to dress like Faldo on the course, as they do weekly on Tour, including Friday when a wide-eyed child sat front row under the ropes each hole wearing an orange Puma cap and orange golf shirt.
Faldo’s reported earnings on the course in his career were around $14 million, more than half on the European Tour. Fowler has made about $40 million. And that is a portion of his off-course earnings, which have been estimated at around $10 million a year.
On the course, Rickie’s struggles are well documented. He’s had one first since 2017, the 2019 Phoenix Open, and two top 10s in the last two seasons, none in 13 events this season.
In his last 18 rounds (six starts) entering Honda, Fowler was 18-over par.
Friday was a glimmer of hope.
“I know I’m getting close, starting to hit a lot more fairways, more greens,” Fowler said. “The other thing was on the greens I made some good putts.”
Fowler’s mood was brightened by making birdies on two of his final three holes, Nos. 7 and 9. He made a 10-footer for birdie on No. 7.
“I think part of it has just been the patience part and sticking it out and kind of keeping grinding, keep working, keep kicking down the door and it’s going to fall down at some point here,” Fowler said. “I know we’re getting close and the last two days were good, this is a golf course that tests all parts of the game, so I’m happy with 70, 68, (that) is not terrible around this place.”